Wildfire season has unfortunately become the norm each year — especially among droughts, extreme heat and (at times) human error. These wildfires ravage cities, local wildlife, power and electricity and our air. And although damages seem obvious at times, there are health effects that aren’t as noticeable.
Health effects of wildfires
Wildfire smoke is a silent attacker. Sometimes all we can do is smell it, other times it’s so heavy that it covers the sun or casts odd-colored tones to the sky. Smoke damages the air quality in cities that may already have poor air quality, and can trigger dizziness, nausea, congestion and other cardiovascular issues. Prolonged exposure to smoke can cause far more serious health issues such as under-functioning lungs, heart failure and premature death.
But smoke isn’t the only thing you have to worry about. Wildfires can cause black-outs and leave you without power for days. Even if you don’t think you’re close enough to be affected by a wildfire, it’s never too soon to prepare.
Prepare for a wildfire
If you and your family had to evacuate tomorrow, would you be ready? While you can’t plan for every emergency, you can take steps to be as prepared as possible. Prepare now by taking some of these steps:
- Emergency kits. Put together an emergency kit and keep it in your car or somewhere in your house that’s easily accessible. Have supplies that can last for at least 3 days (or 72 hours).
- Make sure you have at least a 5 day supply of food and water. Stock up on enough non-perishable food (that doesn’t require refrigeration or cooking) to last 5-7 days, and plan for at least one gallon of water per person per day.
- Keep your gas tanks filled and your electronics (especially phones) charged. Keep in mind that cell phones won’t work if nearby cell towers lose power.
- Have an evacuation plan and make sure the entire family understands it. Have a clear plan and a meeting place already mapped out. This form from the American Red Cross can help you detail your plan.
- Keep important documents in one place. In case of an evacuation or the possibility of damage to your home, keep all important documents (such as your SSN card, birth certificate, visa information, etc) in one place where you can easily grab it in a hurry.
- Generators and air purifiers. Power outages can occur amidst big wildfires. Sign up for alerts from PG&E and keep a generator (that’s charged) in case you’re left without power for a time. This is especially important if you have medical devices at home such as a CPAP machine. Also invest in an air purifier to help keep poor air out of your home.
- Prescription medications. Stay up to date on refills, and keep important medical documentation in case you need to get a refill.
- Pet considerations. Do you have supplies, food and water for pets? Keep your pets in mind as you prepare for emergencies and pack supplies.
- Wear the right mask. Not only are masks necessary to help prevent smoke inhalation, but with surging COVID-19 cases they can also help contain the spread. If you have to go out while there’s poor air quality, be sure to wear a mask, but avoid those with vents as they help spread germs and bacteria.
While dealing with evacuations and power outages can be stressful, taking steps to be prepared now can make future emergencies go smoother. With just a few simple steps, you and your family can tackle any challenges that come your way.
This article first appeared in the September 2021 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.